Bringing the Grit to Philippine Cinema

Coming up at the turn of the seventies, Philippine filmmaker Lino Brocka made a name for himself directing nine studio movies—many of them melodramas and romances that proved popular with local critics and audiences—in the span of just two years. It was only after taking some time away from filmmaking, though, that Brocka began to push beyond purely commercial forms. “Philippine films are wanting in content; they need more realism,” he declared upon his return. And with raw, location-shot films like Manila in the Claws of Light (1975)—one of the masterpieces that would go on to win him worldwide acclaim—the director found a way out of the escapism he had come to abhor.

Made under the martial law instituted by Ferdinand Marcos, but set a few years earlier, as protests roiled the country, Manila follows a village fisherman (Rafael Roco Jr.) who goes in search of his missing girlfriend (Hilda Koronel) in the capital, where he finds himself navigating exploitative working conditions and the degradation of the slums. It’s a film with its finger on the racing pulse of an overcrowded city, and one of the key contributing factors to its documentary-like immediacy is Brocka’s remarkable cast, a seamless mix of professional and nonprofessional actors. Our new edition of Manila features a 1975 behind-the-scenes documentary by the film’s producer and cinematographer, Mike De Leon, in which Brocka goes in-depth on the process of casting the film. In the clip above, over footage of the crew shooting amid the makeshift squats flanking Manila’s Sunog-Apog canal, Brocka discusses how using extras from the areas where he’s shooting helps him avoid the “self-consciousness” of those with prior film experience.

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